The endocrine system is a series of glands and organs that make and secrete hormones needed for the body to perform various functions. Similar to the nervous system, it plays a very important role in controlling and coordinating bodily functions. The main difference, however, is that the nervous system communicates via neurotransmitters and impulses, while the endocrine system makes use of hormones as its own chemical messengers.
What are the Functions of the Endocrine System?
The primary function of the endocrine system is the production of hormones, which act as the body’s messengers in passing instructions from one cell to another. Endocrine glands perform their functions by releasing hormones into the bloodstream, making it possible for the hormones to travel throughout the body. Because of this, the influence of endocrine glands is felt in most cells in the body. The endocrine system regulates bodily functions such as:
- Sexual development
- Energy level
- Growth and development
- Body temperature
- Sensory perception
- Response to stress, mood, and injury
The endocrine system must be in optimal condition to release hormones in the right proportions. It is also important to live healthily as infections, stress, and certain medical conditions can affect your hormone levels. Additionally, having too many or too few hormones in the body can cause several health issues.
Parts of the Endocrine System
The integral parts of the endocrine system are as follows:
The hypothalamus is found at the lower center of the brain, close to the optic chiasm, linking the nervous system and the endocrine system. The hypothalamus produces hormones that regulate the pituitary gland. It also controls sleep temperature, water balance, blood pressure, and appetite.
The pituitary is a small, bean-sized gland found below the hypothalamus. Despite its small size, it is responsible for regulating vital body functions and retaining one’s overall well being. Due to its important role, it is sometimes referred to as the body’s master gland. The hormones produced from the pituitary gland help control many other endocrine glands. Some of the hormones made include the following:
- Growth Hormone: This incites the growth of bone and other tissues. Its role also includes the handling of minerals and nutrients in the body.
- Corticotropin: This stimulates the adrenal glands.
- Prolactin: This activates the production of milk in women who are breastfeeding
- Oxytocin: This triggers the contraction of the uterus during childbirth
- Antidiuretic: This regulates the absorption of water by your kidneys and also increases blood pressure.
- Thyrotropin: This thyroid-producing hormone regulates the thyroid gland.
The pineal gland is found in the middle of the brain. Its function is to secrete melatonin, which helps the body regulate its sleep-wake cycles – when to sleep and when to wake.
The thyroid is located in front of the lower part of the neck. It produces thyroxine and triiodothyronine hormones, which play a major role in the body’s metabolism. These two hormones regulate the rate at which the food we eat is burned and converted to energy. If the thyroid is doesn’t work properly, it can affect your entire system. Overproduction of thyroid hormones can lead to a disease called hyperthyroidism, while the underproduction of these hormones can cause hypothyroidism.
Just like thyroid, the parathyroid is also located in front of the lower part of the neck. It helps regulate the calcium levels in the blood and bones.
The thymus is located in the upper torso. The hormone it produces helps in developing white blood cells that the body uses to destroy abnormal cells and to fight infections.
The adrenal gland is found at the top of each kidney. Just like many other glands, the adrenal gland interacts with the pituitary and hypothalamus to perform its function. This includes the production and release of hormones that help regulate blood pressure, stress response, and heart rate. The adrenal gland has outer and inner parts. The outer part is known as the adrenal cortex, while the inner part is called the adrenal medulla.
The pancreas is found across the back of your abdomen, behind the stomach. It plays both digestion and hormone-production roles in the body, and it helps control blood sugar levels. Some of the hormones pancreas glands produces are insulin and glucagon, which are important for regulating blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer is one of the conditions that can interfere with the function of the pancreas gland and other close organs.
Ovaries are found on both sides of women’s uterus, below the fallopian tubes. Ovaries are reproductive glands, as they contain egg cells the body needs for reproduction and produces estrogen and progesterone.
The testis is another reproductive gland. Men’s testes are located within the scrotum. They produce the male sex hormone, sperm, and testosterone.
Factors that Affect the Endocrine System
Many factors such as aging, puberty, pregnancy, genetics, one’s environment, and certain diseases can affect the endocrine system negatively. As we age, we naturally experience certain changes regarding your endocrine system functions. For instance, your metabolism may slow down, and you might also start gaining weight without necessarily changing your food intake or exercise routine. Hormonal shifts and certain environmental factors may also affect your endocrine system. Diseases such as diabetes, thyroid cancer, Cushing’s syndrome, osteoporosis, and Graves’ diseases are some of the common endocrine system disorders.
What are the Best Ways to Keep Your Endocrine System Healthy?
For the endocrine system to be in its best condition, other systems in the body must also function properly. The following are some examples:
- Your body needs proper blood flow for the hormones to travel to other parts of the body.
- The hormones interact with certain receptors in the body and brain to perform their functions. These receptors must be sufficient enough at the target tissues.
- The receptors must also be effective enough to respond to the signals from the hormones.
It is therefore important to live a healthy life and be sensitive to changes in your body. To keep your endocrine system healthy, here are some of the things you should always ensure:
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Engage in regular exercise
- Get your doctor’s recommendation before taking any herbal treatments or supplements
- Ensure regular medical checkups
- Discuss your family history of endocrine problems with your doctor, especially if there is a history of any of the above endocrine disorders
What are the Signs of Endocrine System Disorders?
While the endocrine disorder can only be diagnosed by a medical professional, there are certain signs that may point to their presence in the body. You will need to visit your doctor to check your endocrine system health if you notice any of the following:
- Frequent urination
- Always feeling thirsty despite drinking a lot of water
- Always feeling tired and/or weak
- Having frequent stomach pain
- Experiencing constant nausea
- Losing or gaining weight
- Having frequent constipation
- Excessive sweating